Student Health And Counseling Services

Topic - Culture Shock: International Students

When you leave your home culture, you separate yourself from the people and circumstances that have defined your role in society. You enter into a world in which you are expected to adjust to the way things are done here- and there may be some significant differences from how you have done things back home. It is possible that you may experience a loss of some of your identity. The impact of this change can be disorienting. It is called "culture shock." Culture shock can be felt in a number of ways.

Some of the signs of culture shock are:

  • Fits of anger over minor inconveniences
  • Irritability
  • Extreme homesickness
  • Withdrawal from people who are different from you
  • A new and intense feeling of loyalty to your own culture
  • Compulsive eating or a loss of appetite
  • Boredom
  • A need for excessive periods of sleep
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Loneliness and Isolation
  • Excessive concern over minor pains
  • Depression
  • Loss of ability to work effectively
  • Unexplainable fits of crying
  • Marital stress
  • Exaggerated cleanliness
  • Feeling sick much of the time
  • Difficulty concentrating

You do not need to suffer from every item on the list in order to experience culture shock. Only a few of the items may apply to you -- maybe only a couple of them.

Being in college far away from home can create stresses of its own and events that may be happening at home can be even tougher because you cannot be with friends and family to give and receive support.

If you are dealing with culture shock and college adjustment issues, help is available.

Things that might help…

  • Talk out your worries. Telling someone about your problems helps you organize them and plan constructive action rather than letting them spin around and around in your head. Good listeners offer support and sometimes helpful suggestions. Value and use the support available to you, there may be people who care about you and have a lot of life experience to offer you. The telephone, e-mail or letters are a convenient way of keeping in touch and letting your family know what is happening. Sometimes other relatives may be geographically closer than your immediate family, and it may be useful to develop supportive adult relationships with them.
  • Join groups. Make new friends. Your adjustment may be easier if you participate in campus organizations. There are many student groups on campus.
  • Accept what you cannot change. Be willing to compromise, be satisfied with good enough.
  • Avoid self-medication. Alcohol or drugs may help you ignore reality, but it won’t change it. Medications may play a helpful role in instances of extreme stress, but make that decision with your physician.
  • Get enough sleep, good food and exercise. Taking care of your body helps enormously! Find some physical activity that you can enjoy. Exercise can be an effective way to lessen worry and stress.
  • Recognize your accomplishments. All too often people are hypercritical of themselves. By giving yourself credit for what you have accomplished, you begin to see yourself as a person who can handle whatever life throws your way.
  • Be patient. Culture shock is something that students of color and students from other countries on a predominantly White American campus experience while they're here. Realize what is happening to you and find support.
  • Care for yourself. Develop new support systems and friends, by doing so you will be in a strong position to make your experience of leaving home and coming to UW-River Falls an exciting and positive time.

American Values

Independence is a strong American value. The culture here is focused on the individual rather than the group, which includes the family. Self-reliance and self-expression are usually seen as more important than harmonious relationships. This focus on the individual, however, can lead to isolation that is seen as normal here. Independent effort and achievement are valued. Students are expected to speak up and contribute to discussions, ask questions if they do not understand, and visit the professor or teaching assistant during office hours for extra help. They’re expected to take the initiative. One way that American students take the initiative is to seek help when they are feeling overwhelmed. While it is more common in other cultures to seek help from family and to not talk to people outside the family about problems or issues you might be facing- it is acceptable to do so here. Often, there is concern that if you talk to someone outside the family, that person might tell other people about what you said which would bring shame to the family. At Counseling Services we are not allowed to talk about what students tell us to anyone whether it’s your parents, your professors, or anyone at the University unless you give us written permission to do so.

Content courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Counseling Center

Counseling at UW-River Falls

Getting used to a new culture can be challenging. Counseling Services provides a wide range of assistance to all students. No concern is too small or too large for us to help you. If we can’t be of service, we will help you find the right place for the information or assistance you need.

Some of the services we provide include:

  • Stress Management - so students can learn to manage test anxiety as well as the stress of the semester.
  • Problem-Solving – if you need assistance in ways to effectively deal with a professor for example.
  • Cross-cultural Communication- we can help provide guidance about what questions to ask when dealing with an American bureaucracy for example or general interpretations about the meaning behind a certain statement/discussion.
  • Brain-Storming- about how to handle any particular issue that has presented itself when you are not sure about how to proceed.
  • Getting Support- so that you can talk about the pressures you may be feeling about being here.
  • Assertiveness Training- to negotiate effective communication when interacting within this culture.
  • Time-Management Training- if you need assistance in making sure you are accomplishing everything you need to in order to be successful.

You can also call and ask to speak to a counselor if you are unsure about whether you should come in for an appointment or not. If you would like more assistance or counseling, please contact Counseling Services at 715-425-3884.

Campus Resources

Office of International Education 715-425-4891

UWRF International Student Services 715-425-4982 

Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging 715-425-3300

These links may also be helpful

Mayo Clinic Adjustment Disorders

International Student: Study in the USA: Resources for international students 

Page reviewed Summer 2017 by Mark Huttemier, MA, LPC - Personal Counselor in Student Health and Counseling at University of Wisconsin – River Falls

Contact Us

Student Health and Counseling Services
Student Health Services: 715-425-3293
Counseling Services: 715-425-3884
M-F, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
211 Hagestad Hall